Changing Lives: Worth it.
by Caitlin Frazier
When I confirmed for my year as an Episcopal Urban Intern, I knew I would have some new experiences. But I had no idea how formative those new experiences would be. As I begin to reflect on EUIP, I can look back and see major changes in my life. They include: a significant shift in location and setting, from an Oklahoma suburb to west Los Angeles; a feeling of self reliance as I moved to a new city and developed a home; a much greater knowledge and experience base of social services in general and HIV/AIDS in particular; and a much more open mind.
Over the past 10 months, I have worked at Common Ground: The Westside HIV Community Center as a Prevention Advocate. The job involves many tasks but my specific responsibilities are: working with homeless youth at a drop-in, teaching high schoolers about HIV and conducting HIV tests.
Working with homeless youth has been the biggest challenge. The young adults I encounter have often been living on the streets for many years. I have had difficulty building relationships because of the drastic differences between myself and the population I serve. One of greatest rewards of working with the youth has been the appreciation I have gained of my own life. The fact that I grew up for 18 years with my parents in a loving suburban home and always had much more than I needed is a significantly more amazing fact than I have previously appreciated.
Working in high schools teaching about HIV has been a great strength builder for me. It has allowed me to fine tune my public speaking and presentation skills. I have to do a lot of thinking on my feet when the students have questions. These are skills that I know will aid me in any career path.
HIV testing has been my favorite part of my job. I find the challenge of the test setting invigorating. The tester only has approximately 25 minutes with each client who comes in to test. During that time, you have to enhance the person's perception of their own risk for HIV, set a goal for risk reduction, push the stage of change of the individual, communicate information about HIV, and fill out a questionnaire. In addition, the tester is constantly monitoring the anxiety and emotions of the client. It's a constant juggle and when I leave a testing room, I'm always thinking about how I can do better on the next test.
My job can be stressful and is often emotionally draining. But preventing just one person from becoming HIV+ is worth my work. I take inspiration from an evaluation that my coworker and I received during a trip to a high school where we taught about the transmission of HIV and STDs. Taped over my desk, it reads, "You two are great. I am honestly going to change my lifestyle because of you guys. Thank you!"